Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini authored Survival of the fittest theory: Darwinism's limits. The article touches on some points raised in the thread A New Book. From the piece:
Much of the vast neo-Darwinian literature is distressingly uncritical. The possibility that anything is seriously amiss with Darwin's account of evolution is hardly considered. Such dissent as there is often relies on theistic premises which Darwinists rightly say have no place in the evaluation of scientific theories. So onlookers are left with the impression that there is little or nothing about Darwin's theory to which a scientific naturalist could reasonably object. The methodological scepticism that characterises most areas of scientific discourse seems strikingly absent when Darwinism is the topic.
Moreover, it is perfectly general: it applies to any species, independent of what its phenotype may happen to be. And it is remarkably simple. In effect, the mechanism of trait transmission it postulates consists of a random generator of genotypic variants that produce the corresponding random phenotypic variations, and an environmental filter that selects among the latter according to their relative fitness. And that's all. Remarkable if true.
But we don't think it is true. A variety of different considerations suggesting that it is not are mounting up. We feel it is high time that Darwinists take this evidence seriously, or offer some reason why it should be discounted. Our book about what Darwin got wrong reviews in detail some of these objections to natural selection and the evidence for them; this article is a brief summary.
So what's up?
This assumption (phenotype alteration resulting from natural selection pruning mutations) explains the random variation of phenotypic traits over time, but it doesn't explain why phenotypic traits evolve.
An explanation follows leading to this:
So much for the theory, now for the objections. Natural selection is a radically environmentalist theory.
After a bit on B.F. Skinner we arrive at:
In our book, we argue in some detail that much the same is true of Darwin's treatment of evolution: it overestimates the contribution the environment makes in shaping the phenotype of a species and correspondingly underestimates the effects of endogenous variables. For Darwin, the only thing that organisms contribute to determining how next-generation phenotypes differ from parent-generation phenotypes is random variation. All the non-random variables come from the environment.
Suppose, however, that Darwin got this wrong and various internal factors account for the data. If that is so, there is inevitably less for environmental filtering to do.
Now we're getting to a core message from their book- constraints above and below:
The consensus view among neo-Darwinians continues to be that evolution is random variation plus structured environmental filtering, but it seems the consensus may be shifting. In our book we review a large and varied selection of non-environmental constraints on trait transmission. They include constraints imposed "from below" by physics and chemistry, that is, from molecular interactions upwards, through genes, chromosomes, cells, tissues and organisms. And constraints imposed "from above" by universal principles of phenotypic form and self-organisation – that is, through the minimum energy expenditure, shortest paths, optimal packing and so on, down to the morphology and structure of organisms.
This remark reminded me of the ongoing feud between Zachriel and ID guy over nested hierarchies:
Pigs don't have wings, but that's not because winged pigs once lost out to wingless ones. And it's not because the pigs that lacked wings were more fertile than the pigs that had them. There never were any winged pigs because there's no place on pigs for the wings to go.
Here's an opening for top down analytics:
So, how many constraints on the evolution of phenotypes are there other than those that environmental filtering imposes? Nobody knows, but the picture now emerging is of many, many of them operating in many, many different ways and at many, many different levels. That's what the evolutionary developmental school of biology and the theory that gene regulatory networks control our underlying development both suggest. And it strikes us as entirely plausible.
This next comment relates to an insistent question posed by John A. Designer in a previous thread.
We should stress that every such case (and we argue in our book that free-riding is ubiquitous) is a counter-example to natural selection. Free-riding shows that the general claim that phenotypic traits are selected for their effects on fitness isn't true.
The concluding paragraph:
However, the internal evidence to back this imperialistic selectionism strikes us as very thin. Its credibility depends largely on the reflected glamour of natural selection which biology proper is said to legitimise. Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired since, more often than not, these offshoots have proved to be not just post hoc but ad hoc, crude, reductionist, scientistic rather than scientific, shamelessly self-congratulatory, and so wanting in detail that they are bound to accommodate the data, however that data may turn out. So it really does matter whether natural selection is true.